As the leader of a tinnitus support group, I have one piece of advice that I always give: the most important part of living with tinnitus is having a positive mindset. Enjoy life while you wait for a cure!
I know that might seem easier said than done. I know you might feel like tinnitus is in control, but that’s not true. You are in charge, not your tinnitus, and life will go on in spite of it. You might also feel like nobody in your life understands what it’s like to live with tinnitus. Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone!
I first developed tinnitus in 1995, initially in just one ear and then in both. For the first few months, life was very difficult. I could not sleep, I felt very claustrophobic, and I was so sensitive to noise that I couldn’t drive, go to the mall, or participate in other aspects of daily life. I was even suicidal for a period of time.
About a year later, I began to experience dizziness and a slight shooting pain on the left side of my face. The dizziness and pain would come and go, but the tinnitus was continuous. Then the hearing in my left ear began to seem muffled and distorted. I spent thousands of dollars going to doctors, dentists, and other health professionals in a search for answers.
I finally found help at the House Ear Clinic in Los Angeles, California, where I met Dr. William Slattery and his team. They saved my life. We found that I had a fast-growing acoustic neuroma, which is a non-cancerous tumor in the ear canal. It was growing at one millimeter a month, which is a little over one centimeter a year. If left to reach 3 centimeters, this growth would become extremely dangerous to my health. It was therefore urgent that we treat it quickly. I considered radiation therapy to stop the growth, but I eventually decided to have the growth surgically removed. That way, it would be completely gone from my head and my life.
After my surgery, I spent 6 days in the hospital and then went home to begin recovery. I had to learn to walk again because my balance nerve had been affected. At first, I couldn’t hear with my left ear, my left eye wouldn’t shut, the left side of my face was paralyzed, and my tinnitus was very loud. However, two weeks after the surgery, I’d recovered to the point where I could walk on a treadmill, and my balance and facial control had improved.
I also began to take steps to manage my tinnitus symptoms. I found that I was allergic to gluten and eliminated it from my diet. I got braces on my teeth and addressed my TMJ (inflamed joints in the jaw). I started eating healthier, taking supplements (especially vitamin B), and adding lots of exercise to my routine. I also took a lot of showers because I found that the sound of water could mask my tinnitus.
In 1998, after my surgery, I contacted the American Tinnitus Association to find out how I could help others learn to manage their tinnitus symptoms, too. I began in phone support and later started my own tinnitus support group in Orange County, California. I also founded the first Walk for a Cure with the American Tinnitus Association in 2009, where we raised $50,000. Today I have my life back and am enjoying it while waiting for a cure.
So I have one more piece of advice for you: never take your tinnitus lightly. You must rule out other conditions that might be causing the symptoms, such as acoustic neuroma, high blood pressure, and others. If I hadn’t sought treatment, I may not be here to tell you my story today.
Here are some options for managing the symptoms of your tinnitus. Try a variety of them until you find what works best for you.
- Hearing aids with tinnitus therapy
- Other masking techniques, like using a sound machine
- Healthy diet
- Vitamin supplements
- Healthy sleep patterns
- Support groups
- Shifting the focus and staying busy
Remember that you are not alone. Stay positive. Take action to manage your tinnitus so you can enjoy life while you wait for a cure!
Mari Quigley Miller
Tinnitus Self Help Group Coordinator